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One From the Archive: ‘Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England’ by Sarah Wise ****

First published in October 2012.

The book aims to ‘revaluate our image of mental health and society in the nineteenth century’, and is said to be ‘both page turning and scholarly’.

Wise has set out to show twelve true stories from Victorian times, in which sane people were locked away when declared ‘mad’ by their peers. Those included in Inconvenient People have been ‘selected to highlight the range of people who had to fight for their liberty against the imputation of insanity’. Her preface to the volume is rather informative, and leads incredibly well into the stories which follow.

We learn about the cases of Richard Paternoster, sent to Kensington House Asylum by his surgeon father; a doctor named John Quail, perceived as a ‘dangerous lunatic’ for ‘pestering Whitehall officials about a pension and remuneration he believed he was owed’; eminent Edward Bulwer-Lytton who cruelly confined his wife Rosina to an asylum ‘in controversial circumstances’; and Louisa Crookenden, mother of four babies who died in infancy and who later tried to commit suicide, amongst others. Each case reads like a short story might, and Wise has encompassed all the information available to her and presented it in an accessible format. Whilst the volume sets out to show the reader twelve stories relating to misconstrued lunacy, however, there are only actually ten featured, which is a shame.

As one might expect, Inconvenient People is rather information heavy, and unless being read for scholarly purposes, it is a far more beneficial volume to read one case at a time so as not to get too bogged down with all the facts.

The book contains a note on the terminology used throughout, ranging from ‘pauper lunatics’ who were unable to pay the fees for their care, to ‘single patient’, which ‘usually implied a wealthy lunatic in non-asylum care’. Informative maps have been included, along with illustrations which go with the text. The only downside is that some of these pictures have not been given captions, and therefore look as though they have been placed haphazardly with paragraphs that do not relate to them.

To conclude, Inconvenient People is an incredibly interesting book, and it is clear that Wise has put a lot of thought into the varied cases she has used and the way in which she has presented her information. It is an informative volume, which is equally as useful to a scholar of Victorian history or psychiatry as to an everyday reader interested in lunacy and social conditions of the nineteenth century.

The book aims to ‘revaluate our image of mental health and society in the nineteenth century’, and is said to be ‘both page turning and scholarly’.

Wise has set out to show twelve true stories from Victorian times, in which sane people were locked away when declared ‘mad’ by their peers. Those included in Inconvenient People have been ‘selected to highlight the range of people who had to fight for their liberty against the imputation of insanity’. Her preface to the volume is rather informative, and leads incredibly well into the stories which follow.

We learn about the cases of Richard Paternoster, sent to Kensington House Asylum by his surgeon father; a doctor named John Quail, perceived as a ‘dangerous lunatic’ for ‘pestering Whitehall officials about a pension and remuneration he believed he was owed’; eminent Edward Bulwer-Lytton who cruelly confined his wife Rosina to an asylum ‘in controversial circumstances’; and Louisa Crookenden, mother of four babies who died in infancy and who later tried to commit suicide, amongst others. Each case reads like a short story might, and Wise has encompassed all the information available to her and presented it in an accessible format. Whilst the volume sets out to show the reader twelve stories relating to misconstrued lunacy, however, there are only actually ten featured, which is a shame.

As one might expect, Inconvenient People is rather information heavy, and unless being read for scholarly purposes, it is a far more beneficial volume to read one case at a time so as not to get too bogged down with all the facts.

The book contains a note on the terminology used throughout, ranging from ‘pauper lunatics’ who were unable to pay the fees for their care, to ‘single patient’, which ‘usually implied a wealthy lunatic in non-asylum care’. Informative maps have been included, along with illustrations which go with the text. The only downside is that some of these pictures have not been given captions, and therefore look as though they have been placed haphazardly with paragraphs that do not relate to them.

To conclude, Inconvenient People is an incredibly interesting book, and it is clear that Wise has put a lot of thought into the varied cases she has used and the way in which she has presented her information. It is an informative volume, which is equally as useful to a scholar of Victorian history or psychiatry as to an everyday reader interested in lunacy and social conditions of the nineteenth century.

– See more at: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/inconvenient-people-lunacy-liberty-and-the-mad-doctors-in-victorian-england-by-sarah-wise/#sthash.Yba6AdpD.dpuf

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